London Visit: The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret. If you find yourself near London Bridge or Borough Market, you should look around this fascinating atmospheric museum that houses Europe’s oldest surviving operating theatre. This is a must for anyone seeking unusual things to do in London, interesting places to see near London Bridge or has a fascination for medical museums. The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret is a cross between Hogwarts and a Victorian apothecary.
The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret
When St Thomas’ Hospital moved to Lambeth in 1862 the entrances from the Hospital into the Garret were blocked up. Raymond Russell can be thanked for re-discovering it in 1956. It was in a poor state but was brought back to life so you can experience this stunning 19th century Herb Garrett and Operating Theatre.
Steep Staircase Entry
The entrance to this usual museum is via a small doorway inside a medieval church which was once dedicated to St Thomas Beckett. You are faced with a very steep 52 step spiral staircase with a rope handrail. It isn’t great for anyone with mobility concerns or young children so do think about that before you visit. However, once you have reached the top, it is well worth it because you’re in for a real treat. You enter the museum via a gift shop that sells anatomical, apothecary and curiosity type products. This is where you can purchase your tickets.
Gift Shop Products
The first part of your tour is the Herb Garret which was introduced when St Thomas Church was rebuilt in 1698-1702. A large garret was created in the style of an aisled barn which is an attic with oak beams and creaky floorboards. This was used by the apothecaries of St Thomas’ Hospital for drying herbs and storing the medicine. On your visit, you can explore a large dimly lit room filled to the brim with dried herbs, glass apothecary bottles, medicine making equipment, and operating instruments. This is a time when leeches were used to treat cases of gonorrhoea!
Once you have viewed the Herb Garret, you can admire the Operating Theatre which was built in 1822 for the women’s ward. Prior to that, the women were operated on in the ward which was somewhat distressing, to say the least. The Herb Garrett is dark and atmospheric but when you enter the operating theatre it is bright thanks to a large skylight.
I would say that this is such a magical museum to visit and is really one of a kind. It is utterly fascinating. It is a must for anyone who lives in London and visitors who want to see something historical, fascinating, curious and unusual.
The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret Information
To discover more visit the Old Operating Theatre Website. The address is 9A St Thomas Street, London SE1 9RY. It is a two-minute walk from London Bridge Station, take the exit by The Shard. Opening times are Monday 2-5 pm, Tuesday to Friday 10.30 am-5 pm, at the weekend 12-4 pm. Entrance prices are £6.50 for adults, £5 concessions, £3.50 for children under 18 and £15 for a family of 2 adults and 2 children with additional kids at £1. There are usually talks on Saturday and Sunday and Victorian surgery demonstrations which you can book in advance via Eventbrite. You can hire the venue for a private event and they often have various talks and activities which you can find out about online. Make sure you visit soon! If you want to explore the area please read my Ten Things To Do In London Bridge article.
Author: Homegirl London. Photographs: Homegirl London